Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1131, 17 - 23 January
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1131, 17 - 23 January

Ahram Weekly

Again, death on the tracks

Egypt woke up to yet another train tragedy in Badrasheen. This time the victims were soldiers, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“We wish they would have died in battle, but my friends were killed because of negligence,” said Reda Mahmoud, a 20-year-old soldier who was among the seriously injured in the tragic train crash that killed at least 19 and injured over 120 conscripts at the Giza suburb of Badrasheen on Tuesday.

The 12-carriage train, carrying 1,328 Egyptian conscripts, was heading back to Cairo on Monday from the Upper Egypt Assiut governorate when the accident occurred shortly after midnight.

Hussein Zakaria, head of Egypt’s Railway Authority, said the derailed carriage hit another train after it went off the rails.

He added that the initial reports said the problem that caused the accident was in the wheels of the last carriage of the train.

More than 60 ambulances were sent to the site of the crash, where rescuers with the help of residents of the area pulled out survivors and bodies from the twisted heap of metal on the side of the rails.

Residents of the area used a nearby mosque as shelter for the remaining soldiers who were on board the train.

“Many soldiers were in shock and did not even know what happened,” said Mohamed Mustafa, an eyewitness who lives across the site of the accident.

“We could hear the screams of the soldiers but did not know it was a train crash until we saw the tragedy,” Mustafa added.

The two train carriages were damaged, one of them squashed. Shoes and clothes of the victims could be seen on the railway. 

Witnesses told Al-Ahram Weekly that some soldiers were battling to survive under the rubble of the derailed carriage which carried over 100 soldiers.

“People were trying to cut the train carriages into parts in order to save the soldiers underneath,” said Ayman Saleh, an eyewitness. “Nobody from the local authority of the railway administration showed up until the morning.”

At Al-Hawamdiya Hospital, which lies about two kilometres away from the scene of the accident, more than 70 injured soldiers were being hospitalised. Anger could be seen in the eyes. Many families of victims who talked to the Weekly said that the hospital lacked what was needed to treat the injured, including blood, gauze, cotton and painkillers.

“My son is suffering from a pelvic fracture and some bruises. We spent six hours looking for a doctor to treat him,” said Nasser Ahmed, a father of the 21-year-old Walid.

Emad Al-Sayed, a 20-year-old soldier said he still cannot believe that this happened to his colleagues who spent with him around 40 days at one of the Central Security Forces (CSF) camps.

“I saw one of my friends die with my own eyes, when the carriage broke into two parts. Why does the government consider our lives so cheap to take us in this old train?”

On Tuesday morning, 30 prosecutors sent by Talaat Abdallah, the new prosecutor-general, visited the scene to investigate the accident.

There were indications that the main cause of the accident was negligence. The driver was apparently informed by one of the railway technicians that there were problems in the wheels of the last carriage.

“They said he ignored what was said and decided to start the trip back to Cairo,” said one of the prosecutors who spoke on condition of anonymity.

As a result, the driver was remanded in custody for four days pending an investigation by the Badrasheen prosecution.

The prosecutor accused Magdi Samuel, the driver, of manslaughter. The driver denied the charge, saying that he started the journey after a technical engineer checked the train and was “surprised” when the accident happened. 

Several soldiers testified that the train stopped at Minya governorate railway station due to a technical fault before resuming to Cairo. The technical engineer responsible for checking the train, the Badrasheen train station supervisor and the employee responsible for the railway-crossing barrier were also questioned.

“It may be true that the railway technicians informed the driver about the problem in the wheels but I do not think there is a document to prove that,” said Mahmoud Ramadan, a railway worker.

The prosecutor also asked technical experts to check the train at the site of the accident and issue a report to reveal the causes of the crash as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the Giza prosecutor interrogated the Ministry of Interior officials responsible for transporting the conscripts to Mubarak Central Security Camp in Cairo.

In Cairo and Alexandria, hundreds of people took to the streets and closed the main railway stations in the two cities to protest against the crash and the poor condition of Egypt’s railway system. In Alexandria, security forces had to use tear gas to disperse protesters after they blocked the railways. Clashes erupted between the two sides, leaving three security personnel injured.

To assuage public opinion, Prime Minister Hisham Kandil paid a short visit to the accident site accompanied by Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

Upon Kandil’s arrival local residents chanted, “You have blood on your hands”.

Kandil said the government will give LE30,000 for the families of each dead soldier and will cover the cost of treatment for all injured conscripts.

“I gave instructions to officials to take immediate steps to provide all what is needed to provide full care for the victims,” Kandil told the press.

The decisions were followed by a visit by President Mohamed Morsi to some of the victims at Maadi Military Hospital in Cairo. The visit witnessed a heavy security presence, as the hospital is only one block away from the Constitutional Court where hundreds of anti-Morsi demonstrators protested, and is also where former president Hosni Mubarak is being treated.

At the hospital, the president expressed to reporters his grief and promised that the injured will receive the needed treatment.

“This is a sad day for every Egyptian,” Morsi said. “I send my condolences to the families of martyrs who were on their way to fulfil their national duty and my prayers to the injured for a speedy recovery. However, the condolences will never bring back the lost souls, may God bless them.”

The deadly incident comes less than two months after 51 school children were killed when their bus was hit by a train as it drove through a railway crossing in the Assiut village of Manfalout in Upper Egypt.

In the same month, at least three Egyptians were also killed and more than 30 injured in a train crash in Fayoum, another city south of Cairo.

Dozens of train accidents have plagued the country during the past decade. In 2002, in the deadliest incident, 373 passengers were killed after their train caught fire. In 2009, more than 30 people died in another accident on the same railway.

Egyptians have long complained about the safety and maintenance of an out-of-date railway system.

“We have to admit that the railway system is decaying. We will carry out investigations to know whether the accident happened because of defects in the train or rails or because of other reasons,” said Transportation Minister Hatem Abdel-Latif on Tuesday.  

Abdel-Latif recently replaced Rashad Al-Meteini who resigned in the wake of the Assiut school bus tragedy.

Political forces also condemned the accident blaming the current and former president for ignoring the old and new problems of the railways.

Saad Al-Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and former speaker of parliament said that repeated train accidents were proof of the almost total collapse of infrastructure caused by corruption during the Mubarak era.

Opposition figure Mohamed Al-Baradei paid condolences to those who were killed, saying via his twitter account that the real tragedy of Egypt “is not about the affiliation of its rulers but rather their inability to manage the country.

“Egypt is kneeling every day,” Al-Baradei said.

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